May 9, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Haka goes to Hollywood (Battleship the Movie) +video

4 min read

(Stuff) Far from Eden Park, a proud Kiwi actor working on a Hollywood blockbuster commandeered a battleship for a Haka celebrating the All Blacks’ World Cup win.

John Tui gathered members of local Kapa Haka groups on the deck of the USS Missouri to perform a haka for the cast of Battleship, including director Peter Berg, who filmed the performance.

Next week the US$200 million (NZ$243m) film – inspired by the decades-old board game - opens in New Zealand, ahead of its American release next month.

Director Berg is best known for Hancock. Battleship stars heavyweight Liam Neeson, along with Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgard of True Blood fame and R&B pop star Rihanna.

But right alongside them is Tui, playing United States Navy lieutenant “The Beast” Lynch, an engine room expert.

Prior to this, Tui, who is raising a young family, only had small roles – either in low-budget Kiwi movies or medium-budget projects, including Sione’s Wedding in 2005 and last year’s television biopic Billy.

In fact, it was Tui’s television work – in particular some of his earliest work after he graduated from Auckland’s Unitec drama school – that he believes helped him get the part in the film.

I was lucky enough to work on Power Rangers, so I got to work on my American accent there. When they cast Kiwis the one thing we have to work on is the accent, but I just went into the [Battleship] audition [feeling] confident.

“I slogged it out like all the other actors for the role, got the call back a couple months later and then auditioned again. I was excited. There’s a saying in acting that you don’t mention auditions, but you might mention a call-back. Then you start talking when you’ve got the part, so I was very grateful when I got it and humbled by the opportunity. To get this role is pretty much what I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid.”

While taking its cue from the board game, Battleship doesn’t involve two run-of-the-mill navies.

Instead, a section of the US Navy battles an alien race, while, like the game, not sure exactly where the enemy is located.

It meant visual effects were a big component in the film.

Tui spent more than 4 1/2 months on the shoot. Two months was in Hawaii – where most of the exterior filming took place – and the remainder in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where most of the filming was interior shots in studios. His trailer stood out – it sported an All Blacks flag during the Ruby World Cup.

Tui says despite the budget and scale of Battleship, it wasn’t significantly different from his experiences as an actor in other films and television.

“The scale was bigger but the processes are very similar. But all and all I was just ecstatic.

“My first direction from Pete [Berg] was probably on my third day of the shoot. I was thinking am I doing this right? I’m not getting any feedback. Then Peter comes up to my trailer. ‘Hey Tui. In case I’m not talking to you, I just want you to know that you’re doing everything right’.

“[I said] “Hey thanks, Pete. Man, I’m so used to getting some sort of criticism’.”

And yes, he did get to hang off-screen with Neeson, Skarsgard, Kitsch, et al.

“That was one thing. The core of the film is camaraderie. Liam Neeson is a class act. I’ve always admired his career and I learned a lot just being around him and watching the way he works. Peter Berg’s a director who knows what he wants. I learned so much from them. I never went there with a full cup. I went there with an empty cup and just absorbed as much as I could.”

Tui says he had some down time to enjoy the sights, but most of the time he had his head down, hard at work.

“I missed my family and I wished I could have shared it with them. But being a Kiwi from South Auckland and going through this international experience, I Skyped my family as much as I could to keep me stable.”

Tui is also aware that he will soon have to get used to not only his friends, family, acting colleagues and the media asking him about his experiences on Battleship, but strangers.

And he suspects one of the most common questions will be what it was like working with Rihanna, one of the biggest names in music since her No 1 hit Umbrella, who makes her feature film debut in the film.

“You hit the nail on the head. I’m getting prepared for it. She is the big drawcard to this,” Tui says, then laughs.

“Just working with Rihanna, the pop icon of our time, was amazing. She’s a constant professional.”

Tui also hopes Battleship will lead to more movie roles.

“I’ve always been passionate about acting, whether it’s Shakespeare, TV or film and it’s a craft. I love what I do and if you are an actor the most important thing you can do is to be as prepared as you can. It’s that Kiwi No 8 wire mentality give it all you’ve got.”

– Battleship opens on April 12

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